Written by Team Juggernaut
By Chad Wesley Smith
Below is a list of the US Medal Count in the major Olympic strength sports, with the exception of the shot put. Also listed are the world rankings for track and field events during the 2010 Outdoor Track & Field season.
Discus (4 of top 30 2010 Rankings)
Gold-1 Silver-2 Bronze-2
Hammer (2 of top 30)
Gold-0 Silver-1 Bronze-0
Javelin (0 of top 30)
Gold-0 Silver-0 Broze-1
Gold-0 Silver-2 Bronze-1
The above figures certainly show that the US isn’t performing at the top levels of those events over the last 4 decades. There are a myriad of social, cultural and athletic reasons why this is happening, enough to fill a book. Below I will discuss some of the most important ones.
- Money Sports-Dwight Howard, World Discus Champion; Michael Vick, Olympic Gold Medalist in the Javelin; Patrick Willis, World leader in the hammer throw; James Harrison, World Record Holding Olympic weightlifter; if these athletes had been born in Europe or Asia, these titles wouldn’t be far fetched at all, instead though they are earning millions of dollars in American professional sports. America certainly loses its top potential throwers and lifters to big money sports like football and basketball. Some argue that the US has many more people though than some other countries who excel in these areas (Belarus, Estonia, Germany, Poland, Norway, Finland, etc) that we should still be able to dominate.
Quantity though is not what is needed to win medals, quality is. A country like Lithuania doesn’t need to have as many top athletes as the US, because they aren’t getting spread out between football, basketball, track and field and weightlifting, because you only need one Virgilijus Alekna (7 Olympic and World Championship medals over an 11 year span) to dominate an event. If the 6’8” 290 pound Alekna, who possesses a 7’3.5” wingspan, had been born in the US he certainly would have been groomed for NFL or NBA stardom. Conversely, if Lebron James had been raised in Estonia he would be setting new standards in the discus.
- Drugs-It is naïve to think that drug use doesn’t exist at the top levels of professional and Olympic sports, in America and elsewhere. While I’ll wholeheartedly believe that there are upper level US athletes who are doping, though I don’t have evidence to back this up, the regulation of doping is still much more stringent here than it is elsewhere. Top level US throwers and lifters can be subjected to drug testing on a monthly, or more frequent basis. While these athletes in other countries often only face testing during their national championships and subsequent international competitions. This provides a window of time for athletes to use drugs that are longer acting/clearing and provide gains that are long term.
While the above reasons are large factors why the US doesn’t excel in these Olympic strength sports, the primary reasons lie in two very intertwined factors; training and youth development. In this article, I’m drawing parallels between Olympic weightlifting and the throwing events, not Olympic lifting and powerlifting because of their similarities in terms of speed and technical demands. In Part II I will discuss the social reasons to why America does not perform as well in these events as other countries.